I think since being here, I’ve had multiple ‘brain-fart’ moments trying to get out of my words. And this hasn’t only happened when I try to communicate with my family but also when I’m around other fellows. But I think learning a new language and continuously speaking to others in what is not necessarily my first language has brought me to a greater level of understanding towards those that come to Curaçao and try to learn Papiamentu or when people try to learn a new language in general.
These are a few points that have become clearer to me whilst learning a new language:
1. When someone does not know a word, they simply don’t know it and articulating, speaking slower, speaking louder or a combination of these three is not going to change that. Instead, I now know to take my time and explain it to them rather than getting frustrated and just switching to another language to speed up the process.
2. Having an accent doesn’t mean you can’t speak the language. I never really associated people that have a different accent than me with not knowing how to speak the language, because frankly I have an “accent” in every language but Papiamentu, and even that is debatable. And coming from an ex-Dutch colony whereby most people have a different accent in Dutch than a “Dutch person” I was always very aware of that. However, we are still quick to judge those that are learning Papiamentu and have a different accent than us. But people also often start talking to those that have a different accent like they’re a child, which is honestly just rude. So we should consciously make an effort to change that when we are interacting with others.
3. It’s important to be patient and to take your time to listen to someone when they have an accent that you might not be used to hearing. Pronunciation is of course very important in identifying different words. And in some languages, the same word can be pronounced 3 different ways and therefore have 3 different meanings. And when someone doesn’t quite pronounce the words like you’re used to it might be a bit confusing and jumping to the conclusion that the person doesn’t know what they’re talking about just shows a lack of understanding and compassion. So just take your time to listen and if you don’t understand a word they’re trying to say just ask them to repeat it or try to deduce it from the context.
4. Don’t ridicule people who have a different accent than you. This whole accent thing is ridiculous because everyone has an accent so calling someone out for having a different one than yours is just obnoxious. I’m not saying you can’t joke around with your friends if they pronounce something in a way you’ve never heard before and you think it is a little funny. But it becomes an issue when you think the way you pronounce it is the only right way and that you get to ridicule someone else for pronouncing it differently.
5. Who cares if their grammar isn’t correct, the fact that they’re trying to learn the language is what matters. Usually, when we go out of our communities where people don’t know us and don’t know that we understand Wolof, it’s quite amazing to see how excited they get once we start speaking in Wolof. And it’s not that our Wolof is great, but it’s the fact that we have shown an interest in learning one of the local languages is what matters. And that should be reciprocated towards whoever shows an interest in learning your language because that shows that they care and that they want to be a part of the community.
6. Don’t talk to them like their babies. Obviously, when someone is starting to learn a language it would be helpful not to use overly complicated words or speak too fast. But don’t speak to them like their stupid because that’s just ridiculous. I think it’s important to figure out how much someone understands and to an extent on what level they are, in order to be able to communicate with them in the best way possible. And what I mean with this is to talk to them like you would to anyone else that speaks the language fluently, but with the incentive to take your time and explain things if that other person doesn’t quite understand it all.
7. Don’t assume they don’t understand what you’re saying when they don’t answer you immediately. I think one thing that people often forget is that when you are trying to formulate a sentence in a language that you are learning you are translating every bit and at the same time trying to make sure that what you’re saying is ‘correct’. So give the person some time to formulate their answer and don’t just dismiss everything if they don’t respond as fast as you do.
8. Take the initiative to also learn their native language (If you don’t already speak it). Language is a way of communicating and communication doesn’t only happen one way. So if it’s someone you interact with on a regular basis, it might also be a good idea to show an interest in learning their native language.
Up until now, Senegalese people, for the most part, have practiced most of these points above. Learning Wolof has not been a smooth ride, but in Senegal, they’re more concerned with you understanding what they’re saying than they are with your accent and your grammar. In my community, I continue to receive support and people are always ready to strike a conversation. And I think Senegalese people are an example when it comes to showing compassion while learning a new language. (This is obviously a generalization, but for the most part, they do demonstrate genuine understanding)
Anto esaki ta pa mi yu’i Kòrsounan:
Sabiendo ku ora bo papia ku un Hulandes of ora bo bai Hulanda anto papia Hulandes nan ta ridikulá bo, kon bo por bira anto hasi e mesun kos ku e imigrantenan ku ta siñando Papiamentu of ku por Papiamentu pero djis tin un otro aksènt ku bo. Nos ta un pueblo ku por papia mas ku un lengua anto mayoria dia biaha nos tur tin un aksènt den e diferente lenguanann. Kemen nos mes por kompronde ku djis paso bo tin un aksènt no kemen bo no por papia e lengua.
Nos tin ku siña apresia esnan ku ta purba siña papiamentu paso esei kemen ku nan ta interesá den nos kultura i esei tambe ta sigui demonstrá kon bunita i balioso nos lengua “Papiamentu” ta!